9 Things My Mother Taught Me (And That I Wish I’d Listened To)

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1) Don’t worry what people think (the people who matter don’t mind, the people who mind don’t matter, etc. etc. etc.)

2) Drink hot water and lemon before bed….no, its not the same as a fab cuppa Yorkshire but…

Apparently lemon clears skin – the vitamin C component flattens out wrinkles and blemishes (not that we have the latter or the former ever) and rejuvenates skin from inside the body. Lemon also has antibacterial, antiviral immune-boosting powers, it is also a liver-cleanser (undoing those Proseccos hurrah! and is a general digestive aid, ie: you don’t scoff during the day.

 

3) Don’t brush curly hair. Just don’t. Unless you want to look like you are wearing an old, backcombed wig that has been trussed up in a plastic bag then put on your head.

4) Save up and buy something you really, really like that is made of nice stuff.

5) Not to make plans unless you are absolutely sure you won’t regret it later. That goes for generic dinner plans and date plans.

6) Be discerning, always.

7) If in an awkward situation/doubt anything in any way, smile and be polite then make a mental note not to agree to see this person/go to said event again.

8) Be aware of everything and never assume (a wise man told me assumption is the mother of all mistakes).

9) Know that most things are always “exciting” (I quote my mother) and if you look at the world this way, I can promise you it will never go grey.

 

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The Date, Nutella-Dilemma & Ivy-Embellished Bars

You are probably wondering (nosy) what happened to Mr American Pilot who I met the other day and I’ve been meaning to describe the date. This was a Saturday a few weeks ago now and what with Paris and the demands of au-pair life I’ve not written anything yet. Here we are then:

“I’m still getting used to the joy of real, homemade fresh pesto and the children turn up their noses as if it’s bloody beans on toast – ungrateful if you ask me…”

The hardest part of the date was actually leaving the house as the children decided that they didn’t want delicious fresh pesto pasta which is a) quick and easy b) quick and easy especially as I needed to get ready and go out for a date later. Seriously, I am still getting used to the joy of real, homemade fresh pesto and the children turn up their noses as if it’s bloody beans on toast – ungrateful if you ask me.

Frilly fusilli with pesto was swiftly served and greedily eaten despite the fuss and the children’s parents returned later than planned meaning I had about twelve minutes to make myself look vaguely respectable for my first date in a LONG time.

When was my last one? Of course I’m not telling you.

(Ahem.)

“I had about twelve minutes to make myself look vaguely respectable for my first date in a LONG time”

As you can imagine I was really nervous, but didn’t think it appropriate to have a small glass of wine over dinner as the children were on the juice (why do I never just think of myself?) Of course as soon as I put a SMALL bit of make up on Tesesa bounded over to me in the bathroom and demanded to know where I was going. I lied (I don’t know why I lied but she was annoying me) and said I was seeing friends from my language school to plan for the upcoming trip to Paris (see recent photos). That threw her off the scent so I manged to pull on my All Saints puffy, black jacket over my jeans and silky top and close the door gently behind me once I heard the father turn on the TV.
Note to self – when getting date-ready, apply make-up en-route to said-date, for fear of incessant interrogation in shape of bouncy-blond-Italian-bambina. Seriously – children are SO nosy. If I was that nosy as a wee girl I would have earned myself a flick or two on the nose.

“Seriously – children are SO nosy. If I was that nosy as a wee girl I would have earned myself a flick or two on the nose”

Anyway, I was late with half-face full of make up and pesto hair. I think what needs to apply hear is ‘what happens at work, stays at work.’ The whole ‘leave your troubles at the door scenario’ and not worry about anything. By that point I’m reluctant to say I wished I was only going to meet my friends.

Anyway, as agreed, Mr Pilot was waiting by the monument in Campo de’ Fiori and was looking dashing and taller than I remember in a light blue shirt and jeans. It was a warmish night and my coat was too heavy, the piazza starting to stir with the hustle and bustle of loud locals merging with quiet tourists drinking in the bars scattered outside. My Pilot had one of those very, white American smiles and probably twenty-twenty vision (a pilot-must-have – as you can see I did my research for this date.)

“Mr Pilot was waiting by the monument in Campo de’ Fiori and was looking dashing and taller than I remember in a light blue shirt and jeans”

I’d quite forgotten how American he was in the sense that he had a loud, Southern drawl that transferred to his vaguely-learnt Italian. So the foreign words he’d learnt were even more stretched out and funny sounding. My mind was going a bit silly so instead of thinking about that strangeness I decided it would be better for both if I listen to what he was saying. We had Prosecco, (good choice) and then another glass (they were quite small) and he told me all about why he was in Rome and his early experiences as a pilot. (Turns out he is a bit older than I thought but I decided not to point that out.)

I told him about what I was doing in Rome and felt quite open to talking about the disastrous homesickness of my earlier days here, the search for actual friends and the genuine relief when things in my life started to fall into place and I didn’t constantly Skype family and mope like a big girl’s blouse.

We left the piazza and he decided he wanted a Crepe. I thought two thoughts:

1) “I definitely want a Crepe because I am hungry and he will probably offer it to me”

2) “I am never allowed to eat Nutella in public ever because I get it all over my face. Friends and family have investigated why it goes quite so all over the place but after numerous findings and detailed analysis no ultimate nor successful conclusions were drawn.”

 

To avoid Nutella-over-face dilemma, I suggested we wonder into the Baroque Piazza Navona as it is beautiful and quiet at night. Then I worried he thought I might be cornering him but at that point I decided my brain needed to just shut up. We wondered amongst the marble benches and majestic Bernini sculptures (Fountains of the Rivers is one of them) and laughed at a man sitting on a bench with an icecream in one hand and an impatient dog in the other.

“To avoid Nutella-over-face dilemma, I suggested we wonder into the Baroque Piazza Navona as it is beautiful and quiet at night…”

Behind the piazza was a hidden bar with the entrance disguised in draping green Ivy like an emerald cloak.

“Table for two please” we gestured and ordered a colourful cocktail each. There was even live guitar music! By this point I was relaxed and enjoying the sophisticated company of the Pilot. He was charming and funny and to be honest, I liked very much speaking in my mother-tongue English finally. The conversation flowed perfectly and I felt a little disappointed when he said he couldn’t stay too late as he had to travel the following morning. He said he would like to see me again and asked if he could walk me home. I said it wasn’t necessary (I don’t know why as it definitely was – I blame brain that was in sleep-mode as had told it earlier to shut up.) So outside the bar amongst the cobbles, floppy ivy and acoustic guitar music he gave me a light kiss and said “I’ll be in touch,” as in the films. I forgot to use any words and so waved, then wondered home.

When I arrived back in the apartment, Elena (the mother) was in the sitting room reading a magazine and drinking herbal tea. She asked where I had been and after I explained all she said was:

“Why American boy when you are in Italia?”

She had a point.

Roman Insults, Yoga & A Revelation

I returned to Rome yesterday. Italy is looking as lovely as ever, I think it missed me. The terracotta palazzos beamed in the bright blue, afternoon sky and the market near my apartment was bursting with life, as if the rickety, stalls opulent with colour, had been set up as a home-coming especially for me.

“Buongiorno signorina!”

Giovanni, a small man of about sixty who owns a fruit stall I’d been going to at least twice a week, waved cheerily at me. His head and hand poked out of an enormous row of bobbing pineapples – it took me a second to register him amongst the spiky, nobbly faces.

“…terracotta palazzos beamed in the bright blue, afternoon sky and the market near my apartment was bursting with life, as if the rickety, stalls opulent with colour, had been set up as a home-coming especially for me”

I was looking forward to seeing the family. I hoped they’d missed me. Felt my absence at least a little. The boy showed his welcome, warmly as usual, by grunting at me – we’ve moved on from the silent treatment I see.

I’m not going to lie, the first few hours in the house yesterday felt terribly quiet, and I was unbelievably homesick. The really nostalgic kind. The kind where you wonder what it’s all for, why you forced yourself to leave roaring log fires, mugs of Yorkshire tea, smiles made of homemade trifle and hugs, that know and love you, Cumberland sausage and scenic English villages where men tip their hats at you. (Well, the last bit is a slight exaggeration, but you get the gist.) Then I told myself to get a grip, grow up and get on with it. I was in Rome, for God’s sake! There were definitely worse places I could be. (A drizzly, night bus in Peckham, or Scunthorpe.)

Anyway, back in the apartment I am. To the familiar mahogany smell and the sun creeping through the linen curtains. Elena (the glamourous mother of the children) came back from her Milan trip earlier today. She burst through the door in a sleek trouser suit and puckered lips then collapsed dramatically on the sofa. She is the epitome of yummy-mummy, but extremely busy and important. Which makes her – well – brilliant.

We have a nice relationship – not quite sisters, but we have an enormous, I like to think, sophisticated respect for each other. She gave me a tight hug. Unfortunately, rather than brimming with designer freebies, Chanel blazers trailing behind her, or questions about my family and post-Christmas glee, she looked me severely UP AND DOWN.

“Mi sembri….You look,” she leaned in and touched my shoulder, “I forget my Eeenglish! You look… beeeeg.”

I nearly dropped the plates I was holding.

“I want to say, healthy and…beeeegger.” I’m not sure if she was aware I’d heard her the first time. And equally offended the second time.

“Oh no, I understand!” I said. My ‘Eeeenglishness’ covering up the embarrassing moment kicking in.  I was worried she would say it again.

“Christmas,” I waved my hand, “you know what it can get like.” I wanted to cry.

Moments later, two yoga mats were slapped on the floor in the living room, the chairs and table scrambled away. Oh God. All sound, light and children barricaded from the room. Silence. Then the familiar singing of a million, dancing dolphins in togas, that I’d heard every so often murmuring through the doors whilst reading to Teresa.

Yoga.

It isn’t that bad! I hear you throw your hands up.

It is an intense kind Elena had picked up from some kind of American Boot Camp for fat kids. Something Jennifer Aniston does twelve times a day, in a heated-pressure sauna, in between her roasted, stick-insect salad with cinnamon.

“…moments later, two yoga mats were slapped on the floor in the living room, the chairs and table scrambled away..Yoga…an intense kind…Jennifer Aniston does twelve times a day…in between her roasted, stick-insect salad with cinnamon..strictly no talking or whimpering”

I tried to concentrate. Strictly no talking or whimpering. I admired Elena’s vigilance to my health needs, ushering me into a rigorous regime after looking at post-Christmas-me for a mere ten seconds.

Did I really look that dreadful?

I’d like to say I didn’t feel like friendly, warthog Pumba being forced to align with nimble, lithe Simba during a gazelle-hunt, but I can’t. The breathing started slow, where of course all you can do is listen embarrassingly to the heaving of your own chest.

The trick is ignoring it, like with a lot of sports. Just get on with it or you will have cheeks and thighs like the discarded slabs of dough not even good enough to make pizza with. That is absolutely what Tracy Anderson and co. are thinking as she breezes “Keep going! You really can, and you really must!”

The thing with yoga is to just move swiftly, don’t think too much, isolate your limbs and ultimately feel a “union with the divine.” It is, when done correctly, the quest for ‘permanent peace’, as opposed to permanent pizza (my mind was elsewhere). Don’t get me wrong, I often practise yoga, and even, horrifically, around men with teeny-tiny speedos, otherwise known as ‘ladybird handkerchiefs’. I found myself lucky that I had, as a trainer for want of a better word, a long, limbed, Latino mamma, looping her legs up and all over the place.

The more I followed the steps, the more I relaxed into each movement. At the end, Elena and I flopped on the sofa with Pellegrino at hand.

“Mi sento molto piu’ libera – grazie per avermi incoraggiato di farlo!”

“I think I feel more liberated – thanks for making me do this!” I told her.

“You are welcome! It is nice to have you back.”

I thought she’d never say it.

“You know, I really think you need to find other ways to feel more…liberated…mmm?” She winked at me, in between gulps of fizzy water. Then smiling cunningly, a slight sheen on her honey-coloured forehead she raised her eyebrows. “Sai cosa voglio dire, tesoro? Do you know what I mean, honey?”

“I know what you mean – please, say no more.” I sighed.

She didn’t. She just winked again.

Enough comments for one day.

” ‘You know, I really think you need to find other ways to feel more…liberated… mmm?’ She winked.”

What To Do/Not To Do When Feeling Homesick

What not to do

  • Watch When Harry Met Sally alone in the house
  • Panic too much about dividing the living and working environment – it is odd being employed by those who want to be seen as your family. Just relax and let the pasta bubble – the fusion of employment and family life is as complicated as you make it
  • Mope about in the street – even children will look and wonder why you are so miserable
  • Try not to cry in public places – strange men will use it as an excuse to pop over and pet you

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What to do

  • Try doing/finding new things each day – for example, today I stumbled across a fragrant, little tea shop hidden in a rickety, cobbled street that I couldn’t for the life of me remember how to return to again. It had shelves lined with sarcophaguses of tea leaves. I chose a vanilla scented one and proudly put it in the kitchen cupboard
  • Get your mind racing – look for a school/some kind of class; whether it is learning italian, teaching, drawing, foreign exchange conversations (oh-er)
  • Leave the house as often as possible – the more you come back to the apartment, the more it becomes ‘home’
  • Appreciate the small things: children with chocolate around faces/said chocolate around own face
  • Talk with everyone, don’t worry about the broken, crunchy, awkward italian you may have initially pieced together
  • Drink water from the fun, old pumps in piazzas (the nearest one for me is in Piazza Campo de’ Fiori)
  • Buy that plump, fresh, round orange that looks at you as you pass it in the market
A portrait of me, homesick

A portrait of me, homesick

This is a beautiful, marble engraved sad woman and reminded me of me as a homesick mope during my first month. Buck up!

Introduction/ How Not to Sob Into a Cappuccino

It has now been over a month since I moved to Rome.

I want to take this opportunity to take you aside and mention that I did not know anybody before moving here: no family, no friends, not a single sod. As you can guess, the language is unfamiliar and off key to the French and Russian I learnt at school, the city vast and beautiful, ancient and lonely.

“I did not know anybody… not a single sod

This morning, I woke up early, feeling for the first time, at home in the apartment block in Via di Nazario. Our flat is near the top and the kitchen windows look out over the back of the building, to a long, drop down into a tiled hall. Looking up there is a handkerchief of blue sky. The tall apartment was one of many that lined the narrow street, and it was a stones throw away from Piazza Farnese, that breaks out into Campo di Fiori, a very pretty and multicoloured market square.

“Looking up there is a handkerchief of blue sky”

Early in the morning men and women of all shapes and sizes set up stalls of fruit, vegetables, trinkets, treasures, books and oils. The bars brim with boisterous conversation, espresso and freshly baked cornettos. It is here I pass through with the children on our way to school every morning.

“The bars brim with boisterous conversation, espresso and freshly baked cornettos

It is the weekend and I feel relieved. Weekends always have a different rhythm. There is no routine, and although I am expected to still be around for the children I am often free to do what I choose. As wonderful as that sounds, I still had no friends. Nobody I could talk to outside of the immediate family. It is a strange, unnerving feeling and as I rummaged around my room getting ready for the day, I thought how odd it would be if my friends could see me now. Lonely, old me.

This morning Benjamin, the father whom I live with and work for, prepared coffee in a small mocha pot, and the strong perfume filtered through the house. The day was bright and blue, which in Rome was terribly normal. For me though, a born and bred English girl, the day felt full of possibility and fresh.

The house is full of minimal luxuries, my favourite of which are the enormous, white linen curtains that waft about the living room, waving cheerful to passers-by outside. A lady comes to help every day with the cooking and cleaning leaving the place spotless. It often makes me feel inadequate, but I was not there to be the cleaner or the cook. I was the au-pair and taught English to the children who begrudgingly accepted lessons.

I could hear Teresa in the bathroom, and popped my head around the door.

“Good morning, sweetie.”

Teresa was intelligent and angelic. She had long, blond hair that she was exceptionally proud of. Someone had taught her to brush it many, many times to keep it shiny and the bathroom always occupied.

She danced into the hall after breakfast where there was a large table with colouring paper and pens. I was drinking my creamy coffee, and once I started drawing Teresa plopped herself on the chair next to me and followed suit. Anna, Teresa’s mother had already left for work, and Teresa was to meet her at four.

There are a few things I like to do when I am alone in the foreign house– namely, make sure I get in touch with those who love me. This is a small window of time where I make sure I catch up with people back home and touch base with those I miss to ensure that they know I am thinking of them and am still alive. (My mother has a wild imagination). You are probably wondering what happened to the first few weeks, and why this doesn’t start at the beginning. One word for you: homesick. So desperately and surprisingly homesick. Nothing lasts for long, adaption changes everything. I have blubbered over frothy cappuccino, overlooking the view of the golden Colosseum, while waiters hover close by wondering if there is a problem with the coffee? That seems a silly, rather embarrassing memory. Now there is routine, I know where I am with the family, who have been nothing but kind – (well, the boy often looks at me as if he is plotting murder.)

“Nothing lasts for long, adaption changes everything”

It is now beginning to get colder, more autumnal. The sprinkling of tan I had gained upon arrival is being ripped off by chillier weather that only makes the city appear more unique and crisp.

I don’t know if you have ever lived far from home, but if you are english and nodding then one phrase for you when craving comfort: A cup of Yorkshire tea, love? Have a sit down, chat with your granny, and everything will be alright. My own granny has had to listen to some blubbering down the phone more than once since I got here. Not a delicate tear, but full on sobbing that forces me to hide in the bathroom and talk, feigning a normal, chatty voice. Come on! We’ve all done it.

My advice to a lonely soul getting chubby on pasta and feeling sad: allocate time to talk to, write and catch up with home and those far away faces that love you. Other than that, throw yourself into where you are otherwise you will miss it. You will simply miss out on all of it. And that is pretty sad.